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SAPD officer in off-duty shootout involved in 2nd road rage incident months earlier

Department planning to return Officer Dezi Rios to full duty on patrol

SAN ANTONIO – The high-profile 2018 shootout outside a San Antonio Strip club wasn't the first time San Antonio Police officer Dezi Rios was involved in a road rage incident while off duty.

A monthslong investigation by the KSAT 12 Defenders reveals that Rios, who was shot six times during the shootout outside All-Stars Gentlemen's Club, was involved in another road rage incident involving firearms less than a year earlier.

Rios, 36, was suspended 15 days in November and transferred out of his role as a physical training instructor at the Police Academy months after his involvement in the May 2018 shooting.

Just nine months earlier, in August 2017, SAPD records show Rios was involved in an unrelated road rage incident near downtown.

"Aggressive, very short-tempered, careless," said Nathan Pezina, recalling his encounter with Rios along U.S. Highway 281 South as he was returning home from having breakfast.

Pezina, then 20 years old, was driving in the outside lane in his Dodge Avenger when Rios, in a rented Ford Expedition, attempted to merge into his lane, according to an SAPD incident report.

While Rios told investigators that Pezina sped up to block him from merging, Pezina told the Defenders Rios was the aggressor, repeatedly swerving his vehicle and nearly hitting the front bumper of Pezina's vehicle.

"I could tell in a way he was mocking me or laughing about it. Kind of a smug sort of demeanor to him," Pezina said.

Rios told investigators that Pezina, while driving, lifted up a firearm and pointed it at him, causing Rios to fear for his safety, call 911 and then follow Pezina until on-duty officers pulled Pezina over on the on ramp from Interstate 37 South to Interstate 10 West.

The SAPD incident report also indicates that Pezina admitted to a responding officer that he had pointed the gun toward Rios.

However, body camera footage from officers responding to the call contradicts those statements.

"I had the gun, but physically bringing it up, pointing it? No." said Pezina, who added that it was clearly visible to Rios since he was in a vehicle higher off the ground.

Pezina was charged with deadly conduct and unlawful carry of a weapon.

Bexar County court records show the unlawful carry of a weapon charge was dismissed and Pezina was given one year of probation after pleading no contest to deadly conduct in Nov. 2017.

Pezina said his probation was extended last year and will now expire in March because he had difficulty finding steady employment.

He said he felt forced to take a plea deal, despite disagreeing with the detective's narrative in the case, because he lacked the money to pay for a dedicated criminal defense attorney, and instead took the advice of a court-appointed attorney.

"He's lucky he didn't get smoked."

Rios told officers who responded to the 2017 incident that he reached for his department-issued service pistol in his passenger seat, but then realized it was in the back area of the rented vehicle.

"He's lucky he didn't get smoked," Rios was recorded saying on a fellow officer's body worn camera, after being allowed to sit in the front seat of a patrol vehicle while officers conducted their investigation.

A second conversation between officers and Rios was not recorded with audio because the officer muted his microphone just before he began talking to Rios on camera.

As Pezina tried to explain that Rios attempted to run him off the road, the footage shows an officer telling him to "shut the f--- up" multiple times while another one tells him to keep his mouth shut.

When asked about Rios' involvement in a road rage shootout nine months after his incident with him, Pezina said, "like putting a bull in a crowded center full of people, and then what do you expect to happen? Eventually he's going to gore somebody. And he did."

 

"He got like really charged up over it."

The incident with Pezina has parallels to the May 2018 shootout, which began after a Toyota Camry driven by Rios sped past a Dodge Challenger on Interstate 10 East.

The driver of the Challenger, 26-year-old Demontae Walker, exited the highway and pulled into the parking lot of All-Stars to drop off his wife's cousin, Destiny Rhodes, for work.

Walker said Rios, who was ahead of him, pulled into the lot as well.

"I guess when I put my signal on that I was turning in there, since he thought I was following him, I think he thought I was signaling him to pull over with me," said Walker, during his first media interview since the shootout.

"You didn't hit me bro. You're good. Go your own way," said Walker, recalling what he told Rios after both men had gotten out of their vehicles.

"He got like really charged up over it," said Walker, who added that it was clear Rios was under the influence of intoxicants.

"When you see someone that far gone, they're that far gone and there's nothing you can do to stop them," said Walker.

Walker said he was armed with a handgun because he was going to make a cash deposit at a bank for his barber business after dropping off Rhodes, and that he fired at an "amped up" Rios after the off-duty officer walked toward him and reached for the front of his own waistband.

Walker's contention that Rios was also armed during the verbal altercation before Walker shot him six times contradicts the police narrative of what happened that night.

Rios, who according to his suspension paperwork had consumed two mixed drinks and three shots of liquor during a 2 1/2 hour period while at a police cadet dinner at Ajuua! Mexican Grill, has given conflicting stories on how he ended up in the parking lot.

After Rios was shot, he told an officer wearing a body worn camera, "I was driving by and he kept on like, he was like flashing his lights. He pulled over real quick. And he was like 'you almost f------g killed me!' And I was like 'what the f--k are you talking about man? F--k you.' And he pulled out a gun and I was like 'oh s--t.'"

Editor's Note: The audio below was redacted by the San Antonio Police Department to exclude personal information. The audio also contains vulgar language. Discretion is advised.

Click here if you are unable to hear the audio below:

A month after the shootout, as Rios was being interviewed at SAPD's homicide offices, he instead told investigators that he pulled into the parking lot because he could not find his phone and remembered that he needed to call his wife.

A fellow officer who attended the cadet dinner, Officer Robert Moreno, said that Rios tried to solicit him and another person to come with him to All-Stars after the dinner ended, according to internal affairs files released to the Defenders earlier this week.

When questioned by internal affairs in Sept., Rios stuck to the story that he pulled into the parking lot to find his phone, according to a recording of the nearly hour-long interrogation.

"I don't understand why he would say that because I have never gone out with (redacted) anywhere. Never. I've known him for eight years. I've been working with him for four. I have never gone to a strip club with him," said Rios, disputing Moreno's account.

"It was obviously, in hindsight, it was very stupid. I wish I had just left, yes," Rios told the internal affairs investigator.

Rios refused to sign a release form that would have allowed internal affairs investigators to ask for medical records verifying his level of intoxication the night of the shooting, according to the audio recording of the interrogation.

Rios' physical location when he was shot also remains in dispute.

He told investigators that he moved to the front of the two vehicles, which crime scene footage shows were parked side by side, to put space between the two men for safety, according to SAPD's prosecution guide for the case.

Rios said he then backed up even more, widened his stance and then put his hands up.

However, crime scene photos show a large group of SAPD personnel standing in the area in front of the vehicles, after the shooting took place.

A vast majority of the blood evidence connected to Rios, with the exception of one small trail of blood at the left-front corner of his Camry, was instead outside Rios' driver-side door.

Rios told investigators after being shot, he crawled back to his vehicle, took his gun out from its holster in his vehicle's center console and then fired through his passenger-side window toward Walker.

"The police officer's narrative doesn't make sense. When I talk to the Walker family, their story did make sense," said Charles Adams, Walker's defense attorney.

"There was no time for Officer Rios to get back to his car and get the firearm," said Adams, himself a former Houston-area police officer who was hired by Walker's family after they expressed concern that Rios' position as an SAPD officer would make it difficult to find legal counsel in San Antonio who was unbiased.

Walker's statement that he got back into his Challenger after shooting Rios and was on the phone with 911 when he and Rhodes were shot, matches up to crime scene photos and footage turned over to the Defenders.

Click here if you are unable to see the interactive map of 911 calls below.

911 records from the shooting indicate that the first emergency call came from Walker.

During that call, multiple gunshots and a woman screaming are heard in the background as the dispatcher identifies herself.

Walker, who was shot eight times including being grazed on the head by a bullet, said the impact of the shots threw him into Rhodes, who was also grazed on the head by a bullet before she got out of the car and ran into All-Stars.

His account of the shootout told to the Defenders during a recent interview matches what he told SAPD investigators, who questioned him in his hospital bed shortly after having a breathing tube removed following surgery a week after the shooting.

"You can't be an angry person that wants to be in a fist fight on the side of the road and be an effective patrolman or an effective officer," said Adams. "Do you want that on patrol? Do you want someone capable of what he did? Even, let's remove Demontae from the equation. He shot a woman in the head who had done nothing to anyone."

Walker, who spent more than three months in the hospital, was originally charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

However, a grand jury in Dec. declined to indict Walker.

Adams said he made the rare decision of allowing Walker to testify before the grand jury, even though it meant Adams could not be present.

"I was so confident in Demontae's story and the veracity of his version of events that I didn't worry about it," said Adams.

"Demontae has always told the same story, and that should resonate."

Walker, who is married with a young child, faces a long road to recovery despite being cleared of criminal wrongdoing. 

He was paralyzed from the belly button down during the shooting when a bullet fired by Rios shattered his T12 vertebra, causing Walker to now use a wheelchair.

Walker has lost 100 pounds since the shooting and continues to battle a long list of health problems, including pressure sores on his backside, a urinary tract infection and a blood disorder that has damaged his kidneys.

Walker, who has no health insurance, said he is unable to pay for much needed physical therapy sessions.

"In the hospital there's no mirrors, but they sent me to rehab. In the room to work out there was a mirror and I seen myself for the first time. And I just broke down and cried for like three days," said Walker, recalling the first time he saw himself in a wheelchair.

An eyewitness to the shooting who was leaving a nearby restaurant, when questioned by the lead detective assigned to the case, expressed dismay that an SAPD officer was involved.

"It was like the Wild West, you know. It's like it's horrific, it was gross, it was evil," said the witness, according to audio released to the Defenders.

"Even more so that a police officer is involved in this. It's like, I mean, if I was a police officer, I would actually just avoid it."

SAPD refused to make Chief William McManus or Rios available for an interview for this story.

McManus instead released the following written statement:

In the August 2017 incident, Officer Rios was the victim of a deadly conduct after the defendant pointed a gun at him. That case was investigated and forwarded to the District Attorney's Office. The suspect was later convicted of that offense. Officer Rios is currently on light duty in an administrative capacity as he is still recovering after being shot six times. Once he is fully recovered, he will be assigned to full duty on patrol.

It appears Rios will avoid being criminally charged, despite being in possession of a firearm while under the influence of intoxicants.

Earlier this month, Christine Del Prado, chief of Special Crimes for the Bexar County District Attorney's Office released the following statement regarding its investigation into the May 2018 shootout:

All investigations and reviews of the parties involved in this incident are closed.

"They left me for dead."

While body camera footage shows first responders working feverishly to stabilize Rios outside of the gentlemen's club after he was shot, Walker said officers delayed paramedics from treating his injuries quickly.

"They left me for dead. People won't talk about that," said Walker.

Adams said the initial prosecutor assigned to the case appeared to want to take Walker to trial, but that a new prosecutor who was brought in quickly saw holes in the criminal case and Rios' version of what happened.

"I get as a chief of police you feel a duty to cover for or protect your officers," said Adams. "They knew at that time that Demontae was in the parking lot of his destination. They knew at that time that Officer Rios was not going to that night club, that he was just there for the altercation."

Records from the May 2018 shooting and 2017 road rage incident were handed over following open records requests made to the previous administration of the Bexar County District Attorney's Office.

Continuing coverage on KSAT.com:

Lawyer: Off-duty officer shot, paralyzed man as he called 911 

No criminal charges for man who exchanged gunfire with off-duty SAPD officer 

SAPD officer booted from academy for role in road rage shootout that left man paralyzed 

Police identify suspect in shooting of off-duty officer during road rage incident 

Witness: 'Out of nowhere, a bullet came through the window' 

Cellphone video shows aftermath of road-rage shooting that involved off-duty SAPD officer

Wounded off-duty SAPD officer's condition upgraded 

Off-duty officer shot 6 times in a road rage incident out of hospital 

Fundraiser, silent auction held for San Antonio police officer shot


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